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You know how we feel here at NPS when it comes to generic hotels. The good news is that this trip (off season and not on a game weekend) the Grant Street Inn had our favorite room available. Needless to say, this place beats the heck out of the Hyatt Place.

So here we are in room 31. Sadly the fireplace has been disconnected and no longer functions. In fact, there are a few things that could use sprucing up…like better furnishings, no ancient radio, no phone that plugs into the wall, and some outlets built into the bedside table. You can do it guys!!

The first trip of 2020 started out great with a last minute upgrade from United who seems to have changed their upgrade policy to make things more nail biting for Global Services members. Not sure how we feel about that.

And then there was the hilarious stretch limo that the car service used to get us from Indy to Bloomington.

While in Bloomington, visit the Irish Lion for a stiff drink. And have some food at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet Restaurant.

The Grant Street remains our favorite location to stay in Bloomington. Four showerheads.

After a 19 hour trip from Washington, the Tokyo Station was a welcome sight. A quick taxi ride to Rappongi and we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. NPS is traveling with the progeny. We’ve been here before, and it is great to be back.

Taxi stand Tokyo Station

Tokyo on arrival

Checkin was smooth. We requested a Twin Club Deluxe room with an extra bed to suite three adults. Our room 1013 is on the concierge level where the club is. Super convenient for breakfast and cocktails.

1013 twin club

The bathroom is spacious and well appointed with an NPS approved shower

Omnipresent screen

1013 is a very nice room, just fine for three adults.

The elevator hallway

A late dinner at The Oak Door steakhouse was impressive indeed. One of the best steaks NPS has ever eaten. Just wow.

Porterhouse (off menu)

The sides were just as fantastic as the steak.

And then it was time for much needed sleep. Sleeping on planes in pods is a fitful and pretty much unfulfilling experience. (United Polaris remains among the best in the business for international travel).

Some tips for Japan travelers. Make sure to reserve a wifi device for your wanderings so you can connect your phone(s) through that. You can pick up your device on landing at Narita at the fourth floor post office. Then get some cash if you can. Japan is all about cash. Finally, try to get a Japan Rail Green pass before you arrive. This trip, the US Post office screwed up delivery of our passes by imposing a six week delay. That meant we had to purchase passes on arrival (still recommended, but more expensive). The US Post Office sucks.

Shibuya mural

Day one in Tokyo started kind of late due to the inevitable jet lag suffered by the progeny. We started at Shibuya station to see the famous mural, the dog statue, and the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. We also had some soup.

Tokyo Sunglasses

Next was a walk up towards Meiji Jingu that took us by an excellent sunglasses retailer, and the pedestrian shopping streets (very different) Ometesando and Takeshita. Trifles were acquired.

Espresso on the Street

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu is a magical place. Any source of peace is much needed for NPS at this juncture. Shinto.

Meiji Jingu

We exited the north end of the shrine by some yellow ginkos and walked up to a small mall to share a bottle of french wine.

Samurai Museum

There was just enough time to stop in at the Samurai museum (well worth a peek) before dinner.

Sushi at Makoto Sushi was outstanding.

Then it was off on a cocktail bar crawl of sorts. Sadly Ben Fiddich was full (a reservation is a must, but the only slot we could get by phone was for 6pm, too early for us). So we found a nearby dive bar. Three bar was very professional. Nice ice. Great Negroni measured with care.

We walked from Three Bar through piss alley. Golden Gai was our final destination for the day. We visited Baobab (the first vinyl bar in Tokyo) to listen to some old funk and drink some rum. Then it was off to our final destination Le Parrain (a godfather themed, old school, very smokey bar). Great cocktails included a Jack Rose, and over sweet Old Fashioned, and a Corpse Reviver #2 or two. (Special thanks to Jacques Bezuidenhout for excellent cocktail and food data.)

Le Parrain cocktail round

Day two in Tokyo also got off to a late start, this time because two of three of us on this trip work working (hint: not NPS who is “retired“). The day was devised with some help from Patrick who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years or so. The trip began at Hinade pier where we caught a city ferry up to Asakusa pier. The trip was about 40 minutes and a fun way to get around Tokyo.

Fuji Ramen (Tokyo)

Fuji Ramen shop

Our first stop of the day was at Fuji Ramen near Senso-ji temple. Absolutely delicious ramen!

The weather was drizzly at Senso-ji, which somehow seems to fit the mood of the temple. (See more about this visit on apothecaryshed.)

Walking Tokyo

From there, we walked to Kappabashi street to see the kitchenware and plastic food.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

A taxi delivered us to the Ueno park area where we spent an hour looking at impressionist paintings from France (because what else are you supposed to look at while in Japan?) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The people at the art museum, though teeming, were absolutely silent as they looked at the famous paintings. (See up and down art on apothecaryshed.)

Vending

A short walk through the park and a quick cab ride deposited us at our last stop, Akihabara. The progeny was familiar with all of the Anime stuff. NPS simply watched in awe of the breadth of Anime culture.

We cabbed back to the hotel for a brief pit stop before an incredibly great dibber at PST Pizza Studio Tamaka (in Roppongi close to the hotel). Recommended by friends of Jacques, the pizza at PST is Italian style and absolutely delicious. Highly recommended.

Our final stop before crashing and burning in the jetlag haze of day two was the Mori tower. The view of Tokyo and surrounds from 50 floors is not to be missed.

Day three started way early for a trip on the Shinkansen to Kyoto, about which see this NPS blog entry.

Five showerheads for the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Great to be back. This place is an NPS recommended home base in Tokyo.

Exciting times here in NPS-land where the youngest progeny is setting up an apartment for his last year of college. That required a visit to Beloit.

This trip we tried out the brand new Hotel Goodwin (walking distance to campus and much of the downtown in Beloit). Excellent service and a stellar property.

We were assigned room 3008, which is very nice. About the only fly in the ointment is highway noise early in the morning (this may only be a problem for people who live in the country…city folks are unlikely to even notice).

The shower

The bathroom is a nicely appointed marble palace with a huge walk in glass shower sporting multiple shower heads. Yes please. Interestingly, design-wise the shower is also exposed to the bedroom through one of its glass walls.

View from the bedroom

The room is also a very spacious design with plenty of room to hang out comfortably.

While in Beloit, a nice Japanese dinner can be found at Zen Sushi. A great burger can be had at Lucy’s. Reasonably good mexican is available in Janesville at El Jardin. Two great breakfast dives are Jerry’s Cafe and Mr B’s Coffee.

United also performed well on this trip, even providing car service between gates for a tight ORD connection. Awesome!

Five showerheads for Hotel Goodwin. Recommended. Oh, and the bar has Fernet.

No Fly Nöel 2018

December 27, 2018

2018 was an interesting year for travel. We stayed close to our 20 trip goal (miraculous), but still managed to hit Argentina, Africa, the Bahamas, New Zealand, and Australia, not to mention a bunch of domestic travel. From the highest winery on the planet, to walking on the Serengeti. Pretty not bad.

Here is the trip-o-meter for 2018.

Because of all of the international flying, we racked up lots of United frequent flyer miles. It will be interesting to see how this goes in 2019 now that we are finished with the silicon valley corporation (whose travel policies, frankly, sucked). Our best bet is less Germany and more Europe this year, but we shall see. We may miss Nuremberg, but we won’t miss the reason for going there!

2018 was our first trip in international First class. Here is our report.

The United lifetime ticker stands at 1,736,206 miles. Yowza. Hopefully our 146,879 miles will keep us in Global Services next year.

Sadly, our love affair with Kimpton is over. Kimpton just became too IHG too fast to retain any loyalty. Oh well, we will miss our great industry friends who I am sure we’ll see from time to time.

Just remember the rule! NO PLASTIC SHOWERS!

Somehow in this case the word “Rydges” connotes cheap condoms from a gas station vending machine. We’re traveling with a group, and that means little control over situations that NPS usually has a strict handle on. No worries, we were assigned the second best room category on the Rydges South Bank property with a balcony overlooking the river. Room 1116 is a bit cramped, but not bad.

Except for the part where it is connected by a very thin door to the suite next door where an asshole is hosting an all night party. The party involved yelling, loud conversation, noisy sex, door slamming, and more! At least the party wound down for a bit about 1:15am when we called management and they had a chat with the noisy people. But then at 5am it all started again with speaker phone conversations and more loud asshole.

Basically, I guess we’ve decided that the wrong class of people frequents this hotel. That makes Rydges more of a “Walmart-shopper style salesperson on a bender with some hookers” hotel. Or maybe it is only the ridiculous Christmas revelry sweeping the city.

Whatever. We fixed things the next morning after no sleep. Rydges can and does do better!

Brisbane, on the other hand is a great place to visit.

We went to Koala-land (Lone Pine Koala sanctuary) after we ditched our bags at the hotel. Well worth a visit. Just don’t plan to eat any food there. Really. Captive audience means super bad food, even by zoo standards.

Kangaroo

We did the obligatory koala picture.

Koala picture from Lone Pine

About which…

And then it was back to the hotel to shower before cocktail hour (crammed into a tiny bathroom).

Not much room, but the shower is glass

Two people can’t use this sink at one time (unless one is on the john)

River view and a cute balcony

We had fantastic Negroni’s made with Four Pillars gin at Wickham with Rachel. Also gathered data for later cocktail shenanigans. (Skip eleven rooftop bar unless you like fake glitz and dated DJ music.)

Dinner at Caravanserai was very good indeed. Authentic Turkish in a funky noisy boisterous atmosphere. Nice. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to drink on your way in.

Caravanserai

Then ride the wheel for a dash of too much AC before bed.

The Wheel

Two showerheads and a fervent hope that the asshole next door gets a cosmic comeuppance for Rydges phase one. Things got better!

Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Two years ago, we experienced some four showerhead luxury on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida. We’re back for another corporate event (the BSIMM Community Conference), once again with no spare time.

This time United upgraded both legs in and out. Global Services privileges are a good thing.

Great news about the Ritz-Carlton is that they’ve added a much better bar since we were here last. Better selection, and more importantly, bartenders who know what they’re doing.

Sadly, NPS was demoted from 832 (the huge Presidential Suite) to 432 for this visit. The 2018 room had a nice ocean balcony and was a very nice room in its own right. It just was not palacial.

432 has a long double balcony overlooking the Atlantic

Bedroom

Sitting room

Like last time, we were greeted on arrival on the property (in the hotel car service) by the staff. Really fun! Champagne and treats. Woo hoo!

Honey from the very local hives

Goodies included a cocktail book and a jigger made of salt

Sparkling water because someone pays attention

The 432 suite has two bathrooms.

Entrance hallway with a small bathroom

The bathroom itself is nicely appointed. Showers are not plastic.

The anteway entrance to the main bathroom has plenty of room

This is very likely the last Amelia Island corporate visit for NPS. Four showerheads again, and kudos for the bar upgrade. If you are into the luxurious big giant conference hotel thing, this is a strong iteration.

no fly July

July 3, 2018

Last year’s plan to cut down on travel was a resounding failure. NPS blew the target of 20 trips by just about 50%. 29 trips was too many. Not that they were not fun.
They were fun. They were just too many.

Too many trips in 2017

Several years ago, to keep sane, NPS instituted “no fly July” and “no fly Nöel” both of which remain in effect. No fly July started 3 days ago!

To give you some idea of how important taking a travel break is, consider these numbers from the United pile of travel. NPS has already qualified for 100K in 2019 and the year is not even halfway complete. Yeah, I would imagine we’ll retain our global services status.

So far we’ve been to: San Francisco twice, NY, Boston, LA, Ann Arbor, Germany twice, Austria, Sweden, Argentina, Uruguay, and London.

So yes, we will be not flying for a month. See you in August.

A grande dame is what this place is, like one of those powdered but slightly too made up, overly attentive birdlike old ladies with a string of natural pearls. The problem is that the perfume is cloying. Frankly, this is a beautiful property if you’re into this kind of old money faded elegance, but, you see, we’re not.

Set in the heart of La Jolla by the Pacific, the Grande Colonial is an institution. It has been here so long that it rests comfortably on its laurels. The staff is ultra professional, engaging and extremely well trained. The common areas are luxurious in an old school way. The restaurant nine-ten has been very good for so long that NPS has even dined here multiple times. The chef is named Jason.

I was assigned suite 102 overlooking the pool and a parking lot. That kind of says it all. Parking lot?

102 entry and seating area

The shape of the room is strange. There are mirrors everywhere, even where they don’t belong. But it’s not a hamster cage!

seating area by the heater presided over by the giant TV

a comfortable poofy bed

The colors and muted and the style is dated in a vertical striped sort of way.

nope

The shower is a plastic tub with an obesity bar. Fortunately the shower curtain is not plastic, but still. These kinds of showers do nobody any good out there in the world. Lets replace them all. 1950s tile is cool.

A nightcap at the bar involved a Corpse Reviver #2 made by muscle memory with no sign of measurement. The non-measurement is a problem, because to do its magic, this drink must be precise. But everyone at the bar was very professional and friendly even as they slung drinks like they had done it forever.

Breakfast by the ocean was excellent. Sadly, it did take place on east coast time.

After mandatory conference fun was complete, we headed down to San Diego for dinner and a nightcap. A visit to Jsix was unremarkable and good. Funny that we had never tried Jsix before, because it is situated in the Salomar Hotel property chunk.

After dinner, Noble Experiment was on the docket. As always, the cocktails were remarkably delicious.

Here’s how to make a drink we invented called Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz ancho reyes
1 oz fresh orange juice
2 dashes habanero shrub (bittermens)
shake, serve on a big cube. no garnish.

In the meantime, three showerheads and a new perfume choice for Grande Colonial.

(Oh, and United airlines…I will not be flying you across the country any more after the return trip. Economy plus sucks on a cross continental route, even in an exit row aisle seat.)